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Workplace audio adjuster

Adjusts audio to compensate for distance from speakers and noise
  [vote for,

I swear I've done my homework and searched all I know to search here for a duplicate of this. I've found a lot of stuff that's close, but nothing exactly like what I need.

The problem is that I cover two braze furnace lines at work, specifically on the catch end. They are a good 20 feet apart and I have to go between them constantly playing catch-up. To make matters worse, each line has a very loud vacuum pump that must be used to leak-check the parts as they come off the line. The pumps might or might not be on, depending on the parts coming off the line. Thus any speakers, at any point I want to place them in my work area, will always sound louder or quieter relative to my continually shifting position and the frequent changes in background noise where my ears are at any given time.

The solution is a two part transmitter-receiver volume control. The receiver would be like a normal volume control you insert between an audio source and the speaker the audio source is feeding. The transmitter would be worn about the neck, or perhaps incorporated in a hat or earpiece. It would transmit data on your distance from the speaker and the ambient noise where the transmitter is. It would have an endless rotary dial to control *relative* volume, that is how loud it sounds to the transmitter wearer. After you calibrate it as loud as you want it, it would increase or decrease volume based on your changing distance from the speaker and changing ambient noise.

Of course it would also need a wave matching system so it could recognize its own music as non-noise. Otherwise it would create an ever-increasing volume scale as it turns up the volume, registers it as more noise, turns up the volume again... Something to analyze the sound flowing through the receiver's own pipeline, match it to what the transmitter is hearing and disregard that as non-noise. It would probably need a decent allowance for latency from the receiver too, as sound takes some time to travel through air.

The technology for all this does exist, as different parts of it kept turning up in other halfbakery entries as "baked." But if anyone has ever put existing technology together in this particular form, I would really like to know.

Psalm_97, Feb 04 2012


       You have done your homework, and it's a good idea. Don't worry about putting baked technology together in new ways; some very interesting ideas come around that way. And if it does turn out to be baked, that's okay too. You'll eventually be forgiven.   

       From one blue-collar guy to another, welcome to the Halfbakery! I hope you stick around. Don't let the rest of these erudite academic elitist snobs get you down. They're actually pretty cool people. Some of them may even accept you after three or four years, as they have with me. Once we start mocking you, you know you're in.   

       Here's your first bun. Keep the ideas coming!
Alterother, Feb 04 2012

       That's really the only idea I have, and I wish someone would make it.   

       I forgot to mention though... Concerns about how the other workers would take my ever-changing music volume are moot, as they all have radios directly in front of them, blasting whatever. I'm the only one in the whole factory who has to cover two lines, everyone else has a stationary workstation.
Psalm_97, Feb 04 2012

       // That's really the only idea I have //   

       No worries. If you're anything like me, more will come the longer you hang around here. That's what this place is for. You've already got the basics down: make sure it doesn't exist and/or hasn't been previously posted, then think it out and run it up the flagpole. Halfbakes don't always have to be practical or even serious; tongue-in-cheek is allowed, and sometimes spawns thought-provoking discussions.
Alterother, Feb 04 2012

       //tongue-in-cheek is allowed// Heresy!
pocmloc, Feb 04 2012

       <erudite academic elistist snob, aspiring to dlistist> For your wave matching system to work, it will have to determine its distance and position relative to the radio with millimetre accuracy to set the latency (or rather convolution) correctly, and model the acoustic space to account for reflections. Once you can do that, you might as well use a dynamic phased array of speakers to produce constructive interference at your ears' positions; or carry a personal music player.
spidermother, Feb 04 2012

       Many industrial environments do not allow personal music devices and/or headphones, for safety reasons.
Alterother, Feb 04 2012

       But presumably they do allow a //two part transmitter-receiver volume control// the transmitter part of which is //worn about the neck, or perhaps incorporated in a hat or earpiece//.   

       (I understand the banning of headphones, because they can easily be loud or isolating enough to create a danger, but can't you carry a player in your shirt pocket or something? I never really liked the "Discrete personal players are out, but inflicting your loud, distracting radio on everyone else is fine" thing.)
spidermother, Feb 04 2012

       Presumably, yes. There are always ways to get around the rules. One of the most popular methods is by ignoring them.
Alterother, Feb 04 2012

       Headphones are verboten at my workplace for just such a reason Alterother. But I have found one earbud in, one out, with the player tucked under the shirt on your shoulder, gives you music and keeps it to yourself, without impeding your awareness of external dangers. My boss also prefers this approach, but "can't get it past the safety nazis."   

       My current approach is to wear an Altec Lansing little hockey puck speaker (which is astonishingly good, not very expensive and runs on three AAAs for almost a week of 8 hour work days) in the pocket of a t-shirt. This approach, although winning marks for geek and effectiveness, is cumbersome.
Psalm_97, Feb 04 2012

       Also, wearing headphones/earbuds is forbidden because you can't hear when the forklift is coming, or if someone is yelling at you that a stack of pallets is about to fall on you or etc. Wearing a transmitter would not be a problem. It would need to be rather small though, I think.
Psalm_97, Feb 04 2012

       Yes, those are good examples of the safety concerns I was citing, even in shops like those I've worked in where ear protection is highly advisable, if not mandatory (though I've often found that ear plugs clarify my hearing in loud environs).   

       // "Discrete personal players are out, but inflicting your loud, distracting radio on everyone else is fine" //   

       Industrial workplaces are rife with such trivial hypocracies.
Alterother, Feb 04 2012

       I've sometimes felt that the almost-ubiquitous workplace radio is less about having something to listen to, more akin to a totem pole or ritual scarification. If you suggest turning it off, it's like spitting on the other members of the tribe (or in parts of New Guinea, not spitting on them), and the first step down the road to being ostracised.
spidermother, Feb 04 2012

       spidermother - About the wave matching... Not really. They already have tech that can match audio to audio on the fly and determine if it is the same, even allowing for latency and distortion. And latency wouldn't be a problem if the receiver had a small buffer (wouldn't have to be much at all, say a second or so) that it matched incoming audio against, and when it phase-matched it could use that latency by default. It would need to update the latency setting every few seconds though. Or just continually update, no hard latency setting at all.
Psalm_97, Feb 04 2012

       spidermother about not wanting to turn the music off - actually I really do care that much about music. It's a long day without it. But then I'm a real music nut.   

       The active volume control would at least take care of the problem of people cranking it up loud so they can hear it at all times. It would only be loud when their work took them further from the speaker, or when they had to run the power saw. ;)
Psalm_97, Feb 04 2012

       When I worked in a fab shop about ten years ago, I was on a 12-hour shift that started at 4am. One day we received word from on high that the neighbors across the road had complained about our sacred radio being on at such an early hour. The next morning, my shift foreman set me to work beveling a large sheet of 1/2" stainless using a 12" angle grinder--and wouldn't you know it, there was so much going on inside the shop that morning that he had to set me up outside in the yard. After the four hours of unearthly howling thus produced, there were no further complaints about the radio.   

       Don't mess with a working man's music.
Alterother, Feb 04 2012

       Yeah, what Alterother said. :-D
Psalm_97, Feb 04 2012

       Hey, I wouldn't dream of messing with a working man's music. I worked for a while as a welder/fabricator, as it happens - the conversation went something like "Can you weld?" "Well, I did metal work at school, but ..." "OK, you're hired". The radio was only annoying because it was a commercial station, and I detest ads. All I did was set up my work station out of earshot - which also kept my big, rough work out of the way of the real welders.
spidermother, Feb 04 2012

       [LordReigneth] //It would need to update the latency setting every few seconds though. Or just continually update, no hard latency setting at all.// Fair enough; probably the latter rather than the former, though. I'm not saying this is an unsolvable problem, just that it might need more precision than you suggest. Audio frequencies are mainly in the hundreds to thousands of hertz, so you need better than millisecond precision in your delay(s); and moving just a few millimetres will mean recalculating everything.
spidermother, Feb 04 2012

       Don't sell yourself short, [spidermom]. Prep work is vital to the fabrication process. Now that I'm in business for myself and have to do it all alone, I realize how nice it was to have co-workers to share the boring parts. Of course, now I get to pick the music every day--no more country- western!
Alterother, Feb 04 2012

       Welcome. Good idea well-presented and worth a bun. I like your "'Folksy, yet erudite." designation.
AusCan531, Feb 04 2012

       I like this guy bigsleep... you almost sound like you have experience setting up this kind of stuff.   

       Interesting take, setting mics at noise sources. So you wouldn't need a mic on the wearable positional transmitter, you would just need the receiver to take into account how close you are to a given noise source. Nice. And it would cut down on battery drain on the transmitter.   

       Only one thing wrong with the picture... I've never seen any of the managers wear a tie, or anything even vaguely dressy. If they did, the clothes would be ruined by all the grime. The owner of the whole place wears a cardigan sweater and khakis, but he never touches anything when he's on the factory floor.   

       My direct supervisor might get his ponytail or beard caught in a press though... but if the press was right beside one of the noise-registering mics, wouldn't his cries for help register as noise?
Psalm_97, Feb 05 2012

       //never touches anything// Good for him. I had a boss, once, who lacked that form of self control.
mouseposture, Feb 05 2012

       I find that the voices in my head are usually louder than anything else.
RayfordSteele, Feb 06 2012

       Would two radios (one at each furnace) be effective...or practical?
nick_n_uit, Feb 08 2012

       Not allowed, unfortunately. I actually had two speakers running from one audio source, with a long cord. But someone in a different part of the factory, on a different shift, kept turning his audio system too high, and the ruling came down from the boss to take all audio systems down. We can still have boom boxes, but nothing with satellite speakers. Kind of stupid really, as neither of my speaker sets could get over 15 watts.
Psalm_97, Feb 09 2012


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